One of the debates we should no doubt be having about the spate of violent and racist attacks on Indian students in this country is around the conditions of service work in the less salubrious bits of the service industries (not that conditions of work in the more salubrious bits are all that fabulous).
If, as we discussed on the previous thread, it is the case that students or recent immigrants working in servos, 24 hour convenience stores, cleaning jobs, taxi driving and so forth are more at risk of assault and abuse, then it follows that working conditions in the night time economy are part of the problem. It’s well accepted, for instance, that highly skilled shift workers such as nurses can obtain, through the industrial system, protections from dangerous journeys to and from work; for instance, well lit and surveilled routes to car parks, security, cab fares home. Similarly, workers in occupations where abuse and threats of or actual violence are likely to be a frequent risk, such as in emergency rooms and Centrelink, also have established protocols and risk management measures (including quick access to police) in place to safeguard their right to work in an environment free of danger and harrassment. Such protections are at the cost of the employer.
There seems no reason, in justice or fairness, why less skilled workers should not be entitled to the same protections.
A range of decisions and modes of social organisation have come together to create an underclass in the night time service industry; immigration and visa regulations which have the effect of facilitating cash in hand and illegal work, the promise of permanent residency after courses in areas where there are perceived skills shortages (retail, hospitality…) and dodgy requirements for ‘work experience’, threats by unscrupulous employers leveraging visa status, and more.
At the same time, as myriad suggested, there may well be a focus of resentment in low socio-economic areas towards those who have access to education and work at a time of high youth unemployment, whose manifestation is racist attacks and victimisation.
Nurses and public servants achieved safer working conditions through unionism. But there appears to be an ideological belief in Australia that running a small business is some sort of sacred right, and that any attempt to ensure better conditions for workers is a dastardly impost, if not evil socialism.
The consequences of a globalising capitalism are among the factors which create workplace ghettos for international students.
We need to recognise that, and deal with it.
Related thread: Guest post by Glen Fuller on student labour.
Elsewhere: Gary Sauer-Thompson:
I am continually surprised by the attempts of both the politicians in Canberra and Victoria and the police in Australia to downplay the racism in Melbourne’s western suburbs that is expressed in the violent attacks against Indian students. All sorts of convolutions are involved, including pointing to the finger to Indian media, in the attempt to avoid the obvious—the curry bashing.
The obvious is that racism in Australia is pervasive, part of the fabric of everyday life and normalised in ways that render it invisible, and make it one of the strongest forms of structural violence. This is what is being denied by the Brumby Government in Victoria, with its talk about random violence and opportunistic crimes, and its unwillingness to set up an agency that is responsible for international student safety.
Yeah , I know. Canberra is battling to reassure New Delhi that Australians aren’t racist, fearful the outcry over violent assaults may harm relations and stop the flow of lucrative education dollars. The real concern is to keep the dollars flowing in from the international students not the racist undercurrents of Australian nationalism.
The constant appeals to Australian multiculturalism (a tolerant and fair society) is an important policy image in attracting international students. Racism and multiculturalism are two sides of the same coin.
Update: Guest post by Tim Watts.